Building Credibility Even When You Can't Say Anything

Great example from the Direct2Dell blog of listening to the online conversation about their future products, summarizing the discussion, and simply stating what they can share about it right now (not much):

Dell’s Secret Mini Laptop: Speaking of D6, a Gizmodo post about a forthcoming Dell mini notebook sparked hundreds of reactions in the blogosphere. Anne B. Camden reacted and shared a few more pictures in her post on Your Blog. Reaction was pretty positive. Seems like a lot of folks are interested in a small notebook at an affordable price. Still, others in the blogosphere want a sub-notebook that doesn’t skimp on performance (take a look at the comment threads from Gizmodo and Engadget to see what I mean). When we can share more details on this product, we’ll blog about it.

(Emphasis added by me.)

This is a great way to acknowledge a topic while being truthful about not being prepared to share anything. This kind of post builds credibility with their most dedicated followers (pro or con). Staying silent would miss an opportunity to build trust, at best, or actually harm their reputation.

I’ll be discussing Dell’s customer idea generation web site, which uses Salesforce.com’s Ideas application, in the next issue of my newsletter. Be sure to sign up this week for David Gammel’s Web Strategy Report to get the next issue. You can read the first issue If you missed it last month via the same page.

Selling Like It's 1989

I was shopping online a few days ago for a nice fountain pen. When you want a fountain pen, you start with Mont Blanc. However, Mont Blanc publishes no prices online and they do not allow their retailers to do so either. The result? Many pages across the web featuring very nice Mont Blanc pens, each with a ‘contact for price’ button.

I bought a pen from Cross instead.

Price really wasn’t an issue here, it was convenience. I did not want to go through the hassle of having to interact with a human for what should have been a very simple, self-guided, impulse buy.

Controlling price information was a feasible strategy pre-Web. Keeping the numbers hush-hush prevents retailers from discounting competitions, protecting profit and the sales channel. This does not work when customers can easily price shop across the globe and expect to be able to make an informed purchase immediately.

I shudder to think of how many sales Mont Blanc forgoes with this dated tactic.

Campaigns and Loyalists

Ever wondered what happens when your marketing campaign generates a loyal following? Case in point: Closing a Disney community from Church of the Customer Blog.

This new online world trips up marketers from the big to the little, the for- to the non-profit. A key lesson in this story: building community into a by-design time-limited campaign is counter productive. Established communities want to continue even if the budget for their platform has run out.

Nickels and Dimes

The Washington Post wrote on Sunday that most banks hide the total list of all fees that they charge customers. All fees are not listed on most sites and agents were unable to get a full list of fees when they requested one in person at a branch.

Since the advent of ATM fees, many, many banks have realized they can nickel and dime (or dollar and twenty) their customers without losing many of them if they make the fees non-obvious or hard to avoid. This added millions to the bottom line but what a way to treat your customers. It leaves a huge opportunity to differentiate your company by treating your customers as valued business instead of cash trees to be shaken for spare change.

Even the cellular companies are starting to clue into this. Most of the major players have rolled out unlimited talk plans for around $99/month. AT&T even offers a truly unlimited data plan to go with it (most others charge extra fees over a certain amount of bandwidth used). These plans only make sense for people who talk a LOT on their phones. These are also some of the most profitable customers they have as well. Why not treat them well with a plan that eases their mind about no additional fees while also making good money for the company. That’s the kind of dynamic you should look for.

Amazon’s Prime membership is another example of this virtuous circle. Prime members receive free 2-day shipping on their purchases: the more they buy from Amazon the more valuable the membership. Nice dynamic!

Look for those virtuous circles in your own company or organization when considering pricing strategy. Money given to you should be in exchange for value, not as an involuntary ransom or tithe.

Dues are not Taxes

Ben Martin recently compared membership dues to taxes. Acknowledging that Ben is engaging in a thought experiment/debate, I do think this a horribly damaging analogy.

If your members think of paying dues to you like paying a tax, you are dead meat.

If your staff consider dues income to be a tithe from the industry or field, you are also dead meat.

If everyone involved considers paying dues as exchanging money for value, then you have a healthy economic relationship, creating incentives for value-producing behavior on both sides.

Thinking of dues as taxes is a poisonous idea. Just don’t do it.

Products or Markets?

Kevin Holland posted last week about his position that associations should be driven by the needs of their market rather than any particular product they produce.

Many association do choose to drive their products and services based on the needs of their market (which are largely their members and others closely associated with them). This is fine and often works quite well.

I would like to make the point, however, that an association could choose to have a particular product or service (or set of products/services) as the driving force for their strategy, addressing any market that values them. Their customers and members would change over time as they find new markets for their core product. The CFA Institute is a good example of what this might look like in practice.

Driving your choice of markets by a particular set of products you produce is as valid a strategy as determining your products/services by the needs of a defined market. Each would lead to very different looking associations but that’s the whole point of strategy: picking a direction and putting it into action.

Registration and Login Pages

Both registration and login pages are critical pieces of any interactive web site. A couple of posts popped up last week that provide good tips for each.

The Art of the Sign Up Page and Account Sign-in: 8 Design Mistakes.

The critical thing to keep in mind with pages like these is to pare them down to just the bare essentials of what is needed to get the user where they want to be. This can be really tough to do at times, organizations being what they are, but you will be rewarded for your efforts if you can hold the line.

An interesting caveat to the above: do not ignore the marketing opportunities that a login page for restricted content provides. You can show the value of what is behind the login and offer a next step to do what they need to do to gain access (which probably involves giving you money). You still have to make sure those messages don’t get in the way of those who already have access while being visible enough to attract the attention of those who are your potential customers/members.

The Marketing Compiler

I came across this line below from Seth Godin in an interview with Hugh McLeod:

Programmers need computers and compilers because without them, they can’t see if the program works. The web is a giant compiler for marketers. You can experiment here for less money, in less time, than anywhere else. If Al Gore hadn’t invented it, I’d be seriously bummed out.

That is a great insight by Seth (no surprise). The web enables you to try things out and test response for very little investment other than some effort on your part. That which works can be enhanced and extended online and off with less risk of failure.

Why don’t more people try this? Lack of knowledge and lack of willpower, both of which are completely under your own control.

Should You Add Live Chat to Your Web Site?

A friend asked me recently about adding live chat to their business web site. This is the kind of functionality where site visitors can click a button to initiate a chat session with a company representative. Some of these will even pop-up a dialogue box on their own, asking the visitor if they need assistance from a live person. I’m sure most of you have encountered this kind of thing somewhere before.

Here is the five second test for whether you should consider adding live chat to your site:

Does your organization already have a call center fielding questions and/or orders from your customers?

If yes: you should consider live web-based chat as another medium for their efforts.

If no: you most likely won’t benefit from live chat.

Live chat is not going to help you much if you don’t already have a large force of people engaging one-on-one with your customers. The reason is that if you don’t already have those kind of staff, you most likely aren’t pursuing outcomes that live chat support can serve well. And you most certainly don’t have the human resources to do it well.

DRM is Hazardous to Your Revenue

I answered a question yesterday about tools for applying digital rights management (DRM) to electronic products such as PDFs and digital video files.

The short answer is that you do not need to act like an big media executive in how you offer digital products. Applying DRM to your electronic publication products is counter productive in most cases. I offer a few more thoughts on this in the short slide presentation below.

As an aside: I’ve been having fun with slideshare.net this past week, as you may have noticed. The key to using this as a medium for sharing your ideas is to design for it. Slides from my presentations are optimized to support my talk. Slides on slideshare need to stand on their own.

Update: This set of slides is currently featured on the Slideshare.net home page. Nobody can resist a good DRM smackdown.